Quebecers made history Monday when they elected a record number of women to the province’s legislature, but political observers say more is needed to ensure equality between men and women in politics.
Of the legislature’s 125 seats, 58 are represented by women, including 41 of the 90 seats won by the Coalition Avenir Québec led by Premier Francois Legault. That number broke the previous record of 52 women elected during the 2018 general election.
Esther Lapointe, executive director of Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie, a Québec organization that advocates for more women in politics, said the increase is good news. But for real equality to be achieved, she said, women need to be represented in the places where decisions are made, including the premier’s cabinet and among his political advisers.
“I believe that things will really change when not only in the forefront, but in the background, behind the scenes we also have more female political advisers, with their ideas, their experience, their expertise,” she said. “We don’t want to replace the guys, we want to share the decisions, discussions; we want to be at the table where the decisions are made.”
Lapointe is also calling for Legault to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet –and to maintain parity throughout the next mandate.
The women named to cabinet, she said, should have important portfolios.
In 2018, Legault appointed 13 men and 13 women to his cabinet, but after three months, then-environment minister MarieChantal Chassé resigned and was replaced by a man: Benoit Charette. When the 2022 election was called, Legault’s cabinet consisted of 16 men and 11 women.
“We saw that there were women who were penalized while men who were not always exemplary in their files remained in cabinet,” she said. “I have a question about that: is there a double standard?”
Legault has said his new cabinet will consist of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent women.
Pascale Navarro, author of “Women and Power: The Case for Parity,” a 2015 book that explored how gender parity could be achieved in politics, said the results of the Québec election are “excellent” –but she said women need more support in politics.
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“It’s an excellent result in terms of the number –you can’t argue with that. You have to recognize that the parties have made efforts to recruit female candidates, so it’s an excellent thing.”
However, she said it’s not yet clear that with more women in politics comes more female-related issues on the top of the agenda.
Prioritizing issues that affect women is important, Navarro said, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a major effect on female-dominated fields such as health care and education.
Navarro said that while the parties are doing a better job at recruiting female candidates, they need to ensure they retain them after they are elected –around a quarter of the women who were elected in 2018 didn’t run four years later.
“It’s not just about finding women, you also have to support them. And in this regard, I have not found that Coalition Avenir Québec has done a lot to ensure its capacity to retain women,” she said, using the example of former environment minister Chassé.
Shortly after the 2018 election, Chassé didn’t perform well during a few news events. Legault initially supported her, but then said it was “mutually agreed” she should leave that position.
“I think (Chassé) started to understand her file well –she’s an engineer, a businesswoman– but communicating with journalists was difficult,” Legault told reporters at the time.
Navarro suggested Chassé would have been treated differently if she was a man.
“Why wasn’t she supported when there are plenty of other ministers who made gaffes? Men who made a lot of gaffes remained in office, and they had a team around them, to help them, to support them, to equip them. I would expect the same for women.”
Danielle Pilette, a political science professor at Université du Québec a Montréal, said there are still barriers to women entering politics.
Labour shortages in daycares, for instance, have contributed to a reduction in spaces, making it more challenging for women –especially for those who don’t live in the provincial capital and need to travel to the legislature.
As well, female politicians are often targeted on social media more hatefully than men are, Pilette said in an interview Wednesday.
But despite the increase in women holding elected office in Québec, power remains centralized in the premier’s office, a growing phenomenon across the country.
Whether members are men or women, Pilette said, they all have to toe the party line.